Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Regent Greg Duckett ducks questions and shows signs of early dementia at TBR Hearings

Tennessee Board of Regents(TBR) Greg Duckett from Memphis comments about Tennessee State University (TSU) in the highly promoted July 12th issue of the Tennessean were front and center this past summer. Duckett’s words seemed to heap coals on my sons’ beloved Big Blue that is in the middle of strife with some faculty members while searching for a new president and trying to maintain steadfast to its mission and vision to educate its students.

TSU’s internal conflicts spilled over into a two-part series devoted to “exposing” the school as the worst college in Tennessee. My grandfather always said, “Be careful when wishing evil on others, karma can be a mother for you.” Six months have not passed since Duckett’s quotes about TSU can be applied to events that lead to TBR’s hiring of John Morgan, TN Deputy Governor, that has left many skeptical of his hiring. The lack of transparency is being alleged by Republicans and Democrats. In the court of public opinion, Morgan’s hiring appears to be good ole boy politics as usual. Let’s review Duckett’s comments about TSU from the Tennessean and see how they are applicable to the hiring debacle of John Morgan for Chancellor.

Regents member Greg Duckett said complaints he receives about TSU, which started almost from the day he joined the board in 2006, are a "hodgepodge of issues." Some people complain about stewardship of public resources, he said, while others comment either directly or indirectly on the campus leadership. (Tennessean)

There seem to be a “hodgepodge of issues” about the process of Morgan’s hiring. From the downgrading of educational requirements, why only six applicants applied for nationally advertised job, the advertising time-line, and Morgan’s huge bump in salary to name a few are being questioned. In the two-day hearings held last month, Regent Greg Duckett ducked more questions than he answered. Within the first few hours of the questioning of TBR members, it was painfully obvious the hiring process was flawed even if Morgan was the best candidate. An above-board search with mandated guidelines was as important as finding the right Chancellor. Duckett, a lawyer, admitted with no shame, he did not know the legal requirements regarding board makeup for TBR that must have1/3 minority party members.(You can literally hear folks gasping on Twitter as I tweeted his admission.) An old saying came to mind immediately, “be careful not to think too highly of self” as Duckett’s dismissive attitude of TSU over the years came to mind. When Regent Barry Gibcomb who is the faculty representative on the TBR stated that faculty members voiced opposition to not having faculty representation on the search committee, the tenor of the hearings changed dramatically. At that point, Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dolores Gresham’s white diamonds turned pink as she expressed dismay at Duckett’s reassurance that even though rules were not followed regarding the process of hiring Morgan, the board still made the right decision to hire Morgan. Regent Gibcomb was the only “no” vote against Morgan and expressed “concern” about the hiring process in the early stages.

Sen. Gresham was cordial and respectful for the most part but she showed out at times and did not back down in questioning how the board members came to the conclusion that John Morgan, without a terminal degree, was the best candidate for the job. She repeatedly stated that Tennessee’s reputation was at stake especially since the state won millions from the Race to the Top education funding and the eyes of the world was on Tennessee’s education system. I hope they are blind when they are looking at us; that hearing was painful to watch. In the hearing, Sen. Jim Tracey shared that many wanted to apply for the Chancellor’s position but was told not to apply behind closed doors or in private conversations because Morgan was already “picked”. Hmm. At one point Sen. Bill Keton mentioned that Morgan’s hiring process was some type of “affirmative action” hiring. Yikes. I am still trying to get clarity on the meaning behind that comment. Although Duckett dodged many direct questions and showed signs of early stages of dementia with words like, “not quite sure, I don’t know, umm I need to check, wasn’t aware” and other various mind numbing noncommittal words, he perked up as he fondly recollected receiving a call from the Governor at his son’s basketball game asking him to serve on the board. Ducking Duckett revealed he did not know the governor personally but was honored to serve under his leadership. This appointment should have been tagged with a “stranger danger” warning attached to it!

He said the criticism, whether true or untrue, presents problems for TSU and can't be ignored. (Tennessean)

Using Ducking Duckett’s above logic, the problems that have been brought to light regarding the hiring of John Morgan can’t be ignored. Duckett said he did not know the governor directly prior to his TBR’s appointment. Ducking Duckett was recommended to hold such a coveted role because somewhere somebody knew something about him. TBR is responsible for a 2 billion dollar budget. No sit down dinner to get to know you, no conversation about education, no heart or gut check to make sure Duckett was the right fit for the thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands trying to seek a higher education degree. With so much at stake, the right person with a heart for education and the schools should have been TBR's criteria for board leadership. Duckett’s other repetitive statements at the hearing were the constant reference to the “Chairwoman of the search committee”. When his dementia stance didn’t work with Sen. Gresham questioning, he reverted to throwing the chairwoman under the bus. He did this so often; I caught myself humming the tune wheels-on-the-bus-go-round-and-round several times. At the end of the second day, the number of references to the chairwoman from Ducking Duckett drew the ire of the Sen. Gresham who demanded the education committee reconvene to address the inconsistencies that dementia acting Duckett seemed unable to address. Never heard a lawyer so tongue tied in all my life.

John Morgan is probably a good man and maybe the best person for the job but as Duckett said, “…present problems cannot be ignored".

The TBR is part of Tennessee Higher Education Committee (THEC). When we look closer at Tennessee’s higher education system, one has a better understanding why TSU comes up short often in this system. According to Dr. Rhoda, TBR controls the comings and goings of Tennessee higher institutions it oversees, where funds are directed, how students are recruited, and the day to day operations of the school. Many have lodged complaints against previous TSU administrations but what was clear from the hearings, no matter how good or bad a CEO of a higher learning institution is in Tennessee, he or she must juggle the internal persona of TBR that oversees the governance of the schools. God help you if the board dislikes your president or your school. This same board and with its fractured rules will be the starting and ending point for TSU’s new president. God be with my boys!

If the president of a TBR school raises a million dollars a day, TBR determines how the funds are dispersed. He/she can raise the money but they must fight with the Ducketts of the worlds to get anything done at the school, unless you are the University of Tennessee (UT). UT is special; it’s uniquely and wonderfully made. Many are not aware that Tennessee Higher Education Committee (THEC) maintains TWO boards. THEC formed in 1967 spun a separate board to govern the other schools in Tennessee’s higher education system. UT’s Board of Trustees governs the great school and is considered the orange Holy Grail in the THEC two-board system. UT has board members who are devoted alumni that work for the best interest of UT while fiercely protecting the mission and reputation of the school at all times. When UT has internal issues, the UT community brings the issues to UT board members directly; there is no need for email campaigns to government officials and the media to get issues addressed. Many of UT’s board members are prominent graduates of the school who are invested in their school (give money) and love UT when it is doing well and when it is in the media’s crossfire. The other colleges and universities in Tennessee are governed by the same board that governs TSU. TSU has no TBR member whose blood runs true blue. Not one. When you look at the lack of support for TSU in the TBR’s system you cannot overlook the absence of TSU alumni involved in leadership at TBR or with THEC. On another note, can you imagine Anne Holt, a notable alumnus of UT, giving an interview saying anything negative about her school? Wal-Mart would run out of TVs before that happen. Wonder if she could come give a pep talk on how to show devotion to one’s school across town? Just a thought.

“When you continually hear things, either there's false expectations or there are problems within the institution," said Duckett, a senior vice president at Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. in Memphis. "Either way, it needs to be addressed. The worst thing we could do is ignore something and let the talk persist without looking at it.”

One of the worse things our outgoing Governor who is on an accomplishment tour can do is ignore the persistent talk about Morgan. Replacing three recently resigned members with three Republicans does not solve the issues that years of political appointed activists have added to a system that needs an overhaul from its origins. Often, political appointments serve the appointee first and serve the board position second (or third with some folks). This appointment over commitment-connection-character culture has hurt Tennessee’s higher education schools tremendously, especially TSU. No, I am not ignoring the internal problems at TSU, by no means. But for the overall health of all colleges and universities in the two-board governing system, systemic issues like the absence of board members who are invested in the schools they give oversight too must be addressed. An overhaul of TBR must be one of the first jobs of the new governor. Hopefully , the new governor will not use appointments as a means to reward political relationships and disband appointing absent minded color folks for the sake of filling a slot or checking the diversity box. A board must be created that can help the various school administrations address and be held accountable for student retention and graduation rates. Alumni need to do what alumni do around the world, love their schools. What many have seen for the last several years from the current Regents leadership is a cookie cutter mentality in dealing with the schools in its system. All schools are unique and wonderfully made. Until the culture of TBR change, no school except UT will truly prosper under the separate but equal system. If rules can be changed to help aide the “most qualified candidate” get the Chancellor’s job, why can’t rules be altered to require schools to have representation on the board that can bring the perspective and passion for their school to TBR? In many minds, TSU’s mired history with TBR will continue to be adversarial and TSU will continued be viewed as the ugly blue step child in Tennessee’s higher educational structure.

Photo Credit: The Tennessean (boogie man?)
The Boogie Man Stalks TSU
The Boogie Man spotted on TSU campus
Senate Education Hearing on Video September 28, 2010
Senate Education Hearing on Video September 29, 2010


Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks for the follow and comment. Nice blog! Thanks for forwardign my review about the bug to your groups. I appreciate it!

Betlanart said...


This was an eye opener for me. I never realized until now that there was a separate entity under the TBR that governed the UT system. Frightening in its implications, but REAL. It says that all the schools on the left side of the chart, well..., "Mother always like U(T) best..." and they'd be right! I'd bet there are alumni on of the siblings on the left side that are just as passionate about their schools. However, with TSU let's pray. You know I've been wondering how many local students attend our our Jefferson HBCU corridor. Are there any sources for this?

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